New 'direct fermentation' vegan glucosamine hangs hat on supply chain transparency

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Transparency a plus for new vegan glucosamine

Related tags Supply chain Chondroitin sulfate

A new vegan source of glucosamine is entering the market with the unveiling of GlucosaGreenDF, the first such ingredient made with what the supplier calls ‘direct fermentation.’ 

The ingredient is offered by TSI USA, the American arm of the Chinese ingredient supplier. Joe Zhou, CEO of the company, said that the clean message of the ingredient will help forestall some of the issues this legacy ingredient has experienced the market in recent years.

Glucosamine has had a long history of use in the joint health category, and its efficacy in combination with chondroitin sulfate has been supported by numerous clinical trials, including the $14 million Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), sponsored by the National Institute of Health, which studied the effects of the supplements in 1,583 people with osteoarthritis.

The results, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine​ (2006, Vol. 354, pp. 795-808), indicated that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate “significantly decreased” knee pain for people suffering from moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis.

But the wider glucosamine market has reportedly been declining. Euromonitor International valued the global retail sales glucosamine products at $1.895 billion in 2009, which then grew to $2.041 billion in 2011. This then declined to $1.823 billion in 2013, and 2015 forecasts pegged the market at $1.770 billion.  The common combination of glucosamine with chondroitin has perhaps played against it, as there as been widespread concerns about the sourcing of chondroitin.  While some suppliers, notably Synutra​, have been trying to clean up that market in recent years, as recently as 2014 widespread adulteration was reported, including the presence of sodium hexametaphosphate, an ingredient found in Calgon dishwashing detergent​.  

Supply chain transparency

The sourcing of glucosamine for non vegetarian sources can be a concern, too,  Zhou said. The base feedstock for the marine-derived glucosamine is chitin, a compound formed by shellfish in their shells.

“It has been a very fragmented supply chain which has been one of the major issues in the past.  You have to start with the shells of shellfish, from companies processing shrimps, crabs or lobsters.  It’s difficult to control because those shells can come from thousands of places,” ​Zhou said.

“And the process itself is crude.  It’s not very environmentally friendly because you produce a lot of waste,”​ he said.

Zhou said his company’s  patented ‘direct fermentation’ uses only glucose as an input for the fermenters. There is some downstream processing via hydrolysis to produce the final ingredient. The GlucosaGreen DF ingredient already has what Zhou called ‘GRAS substantial equivalency’ via Chinese regulatory approvals and the company is nearing the end of its GRAS self affirmation process.

Zhou said there is significant opportunity in the market for vegetarian glucosamine ingredients (both Cargill and Ethical Naturals offer their own versions), even though at the moment the vegetarian options make up at most 7% of the market.

“We have total supply chain transparency.  It’s a supply chain that is more scalable than the traditional supply chain and it’s more environmentally friendly,”​ he said.

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